Cougars in huge battle at Blacksburg

Pulaski County’s football team travels to Blacksburg Friday in the most meaningful matchup of the season. The 6-1 Cougars will tangle with the 5-2 Bruins. It is a River Ridge District matchup, but more important is it’s a Class 4D Region matchup with major playoff ramifications.

This will be the 21st matchup between these two teams with Pulaski Co. holding a 11-9 advantage in the series, but the Bruins have won the last four times. Last season the Cougars came up short twice in the regular season and the second round of the playoffs, each time by only a single touchdown. The last time the Cougars won was 2015, a 41-32 win at Blacksburg.

Insurance Center of Dublin 10 4 copyBlacksburg’s biggest win of the season came a week ago, 31-20 over Patrick Henry on the road, and their two losses have come to unbeaten Salem and Lord Botetourt. The Cougars biggest win remains the season opener, a 14-0 shutout over a strong Northside team. In the region standings, the Cougars are ranked third, the Bruins fifth. Much is in the balance. A Cougar win would put the team in great position to host at least a first round region playoff game in Dobson Stadium. Another defeat and Blacksburg would definitely be on the road.

Blacksburg is a big play fast offense that centers around the abilities of three players; running back/receiver Brian Mitchell, wide receiver/kick returner Karim Mohamed, and quarterback Luke Goforth. Joshua Gholston is also a threat at receiver. Mitchell has scored 80 points on the season, and averages 90 yards rushing per game, plus he has 17 pass receptions for 315 yards. Mohamed has 22 catches for 469 yards and nine touchdowns. Both Mitchell and Mohamed average over 20 yards gained per pass reception. Goforth  is 71 of 140 passing for 1,250 yards and nine touchdowns. He has suffered seven interceptions.

“We’re going to have to defend speed,” says Pulaski Co. head coach Stephen James. “Blacksburg has playmakers just like they have had for the past couple seasons. We’ll matchup the best we can, but our defense is pretty quick too. It will be important for us to read our keys, play great team defense, and we will need to tackle well. We must wrap ’em up. They do things pretty good, attack you in different areas of the field, deep, out of the backfield, and a variety of ways. We just have to prepare well and all of us need to do our jobs.”

James says a key could be to force Blacksburg to spend time playing defense. “We’re looking at some things. We need to move the football in this game. A lot of their playmakers play defense too. It would help our defense, and hopefully take some of their legs away on offense if we can keep them on the field playing defense as much as possible.”

It would also help a great deal if the Cougars could get back some of their walking wounded. At press time Gage Mannon (running back, safety), and Corvin Carter (d-back) were still questionable. “It’s just like last week,” said James. “We’ve got a couple situations that will likely be game time decisions. We’d love to be full strength for this game. We sat down some people last week. Hopefully that will help. We’d love to have all hands on deck, but right now, we just don’t know.”

Like all football games, but particularly big games with matchups such as this one, the keys are pretty much the same. “It’s hard to go a game against Blacksburg without giving up a big play or two, but that is the challenge,” says James. “We’ve got to be where we’re supposed to be doing what we’re supposed to be doing. You can’t bust a coverage or miss a tackle on the edge because if could mean six points. But we need to win the line of scrimmage, don’t turn the ball over, and stay away from hurtful penalties. It’s fundamental stuff, but we also need to play hard and physical. I think our team will do that,” added James.

The Bruins are also big up front with Ryan Castle (6-0, 265), Logan Fox (6-2, 295), J’Mare Hairston (6-0, 265), and Zach Early (6-1, 298). Blacksburg’s leading tacklers are linebacker Parker Epperley, and defensive end Darius Norris.

There is already some movement in the Pulaski Co. lineup, but there was still much left to be determined at press time. The Cougar offense will likely start Cooper Dunnigan (6-3, 280 jr.) and Clay Phillips (6-2, 287 jr.) at the tackles, the guards will be 5-10, 250 sr. Tyler Brookman and 6-1, 285 soph. Markus Wright, and the center will be 6-0, 280 jr. Levi Young. The quarterback will be 6-3, 185 jr. A.J. McCloud. The Cougars will likely start four wide receivers; 5-8, 180 sr. Logan Burchett, 5-11, 190 jr. Chase Dotson, 6-2, 185 jr. Layne Suthers, and 5-7, 150 soph. John Lyman. The running backs will be 5-11, 185 sr. Chris Shay, 5-10, 180 soph. Keyontae Kennedy, 5-9, 205 sr. Austin Gallimore will see time at the H-Back, Chayton Rollins. 6-3, 220 jr. could get a few carries, and Mannon’s availability will be known at kickoff. Broc Simpson will be the kicker and punter, Bryant Worrell the long snapper, and Burchett the holder.

Defensively for the Cougars, Zeke Surber, a 6-2, 290 jr. will move to the nose on the defensive front, Will Bishop, 5-8, 185 jr., and Tristan Bowden, a 5-10, 195 sr. will be the outside tackles. The outside linebackers will be 5-9, 185 jr. Ethan Gallimore, and Rollins. The inside linebackers will be 5-11, 185 sr. Luke Russell, and Austin Gallimore. The secondary could consist of six different players during the game, Burchett, Shay, Dotson, Suthers, and maybe Mannon and Carter.

  Game Notes: If you cannot make the jaunt over to Blacksburg you can listen to the game live on 107 Country PSK. Airtime will be 6:15 with the pregame show. … Going into the game Friday night, Salem is the top power rated team in Class 4, Region D according to the VHSL ratings. E.C. Glass is 2, Pulaski Co. 3, Halifax 4, Blacksburg 5, GW-Danville 6, Jefferson-Forest 7, and Amherst 8. … In games of concern to Pulaski Co. Friday, Patrick Henry plays at Cave Spring, Salem hosts Martinsburg, W.Va., Halifax plays at Danville, Forest rides to Amherst. Glass is at Liberty Bedford, Northside is on the road at Franklin Co., Wm. Byrd is at Fleming, Bassett plays at Martinsville, and Christiansburg will host Hidden Valley.

By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot